At Salesforce's recent Dreamforce conference it became clear that Salesforce's Chatter and Google's Google+ offerings were becoming closer and closer to being direct competitors for small and medium companies. Although Google doesn't plan to roll out Google+ to Google Apps users anytime in the near future, all signs point to the introduction of Google Profiles for Google Apps sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, even though Google's initial promise was Q1 2011.
Salesforce is pursuing the same market for internal collaboration with a vengeance, citing key productivity gains from companies using Chatter (PDF).
On August 13, 2011, a Google employee, nicknamed Advisor Ricky stated that "[Google is] still working hard on bringing profiles and other Google+ features to Google Apps domains." A later post on Google+ availability for Google Apps accounts hinted at future integration, stating that users who had created a separate personal account for Google+ will be prompted at some future date "to rename this conflicting account to an email address that is not already associated with an existing Google Account, for example a new Gmail address." Sounds confusing, huh?
The small problem: Getting Google+ social data into Salesforce
By Q2 of 2012, it's likely that Google Apps users who are also Salesforce customers are going to be faced with a critical question: Where are we supposed to collaborate - Salesforce's Chatter or Google+? Third-party software developers seem to have already begun to address the problem, before either Google or Salesforce.
A few weeks ago, a small Palo Alto company, Kapow Software, released a product called Kapow Application Integration Platform, which solves a pretty tough problem: integrating Google+, which lacked an API until a few weeks ago, into Salesforce's Chatter. This product solves the small social-media monitoring problem of getting Google+ social data (like conversations about your company) into Salesforce's Chatter.
The big problem: Where to collaborate?
Current Salesforce Chatter customers are used to collaborating around sales, marketing, and customer data (like customer service incidents) in Chatter. Once Google+ and Google Profiles roll out to all enterprise users, it's clear that two "collaboration silos" pop up. If your company's customer data lives in Chatter and your internal data live in Google Apps, you've got a problem on your hand, and one that will frustrate end-users to no end.
Here's how the problem's going to get solved; there are two ways that these silos typically get broken down, from third-party solution providers and from the vendors themselves.
Google Apps customers that are currently Salesforce shops may recall that third-party solution provider Appirio integrated Google Apps and Salesforce Chatter a little over a year ago, so they're the most likely contender to write an early integration of Chatter and Google+ - it may not be beautiful, but it will likely be serviceable. What will happen next is up to Google and Salesforce, and the likely outcome is that Salesforce will write an integration to pull relevant Google+ data into Chatter.
Here's why: it's all about the installed base. The collaboration platform with the smaller installed base will develop for the one with the larger installed base. There are currently four million plus Google Apps customers. Salesforce currently has 100,000+ Chatter customers. Here's what the integration will likely look like. Google+ users will be still be able to use Google+ for their posts, but there will be some sort of Chatter button or "flag" enabled to send certain posts to Chatter. When the posts show up in Chatter, they will contain in-line links to Google Documents and Contacts that may not already be synced to Salesforce, allowing for direct import.
As long as Salesforce is able to solve the whole import-from-Google+ problem, adoption challenges should be low, but the onus is clearly on Salesforce to bridge the gap between the two platforms, as it's their lost sales that will result without it, not Google's.
What can companies do in the meantime?
If your company is a Salesforce customer, stay active in the Salesforce Idea Exchange. This is where many of their user-suggested product improvements come from. It doesn't look like any Salesforce customers have begun to ask questions about the Google+/Chatter integration, so now's the time to begin asking. The Salesforce VP that heads up the product is Gregg Johnson, so if you're making direct inquiries from your execs to theirs, he would be the person to reach out to.
In the meantime, keep tabs on how your users are collaborating, and deliver the straight dope, as you get it, from Google and Salesforce.
Susan Cline is the Director of Training and Change Management at Google Apps Parter Ltech. She is also the author of several Google Apps courses on Lynda.com. Visit Susan at her website http://susancline.com/ or follow her on Twitter @GoogleAppsSusan.